9/19/2014

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KATU Investigators

ODOT: Cleaning up homeless camp 'complicated'

ODOT: Cleaning up homeless camp 'complicated'

PORTLAND, Ore. – A persistent homeless camp on state-owned property in Southeast Portland continues to grow.

The camp of makeshift huts and hovels under the Interstate 205 overpass has worried parents about the safety of their children as they walk to school, and hundreds of bicyclists and walkers along the Springwater Trail are looking over their shoulder.

Nearby is a MAX stop and buses travel along Southeast Flavel Street. A bus driver was stabbed at a bus stop beneath I-205 by a homeless person in April.

The encampment sits on land owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation next to Johnson Creek.

Jeffrey Barnes, who lives in the encampment, told KATU News Monday the group is made up of about 30 people. He said he's got nowhere else to go. The 54-year-old with a bad back and a lot of other challenges said he can't find work.

He acknowledged that residents in the neighborhood want ODOT and the police to run the campers off.

"I know they do. I don't blame them. It is private property, but you know, where else are we gonna go?" he said.

ODOT cleaned up the spot in May, but the homeless have come back in force. According to ODOT, it put off another cleanup because it is trying to find a long-lasting solution. It doesn't want to just push the camp somewhere else.

"It's not a simple problem as I think the neighbors around there know, and I think everybody in Portland knows that this is a complicated issue," said ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton. "And it requires a lot of different types of disciplines and a lot of government services to do the best job you can."

He said a lot of conversations are happening about what to do next, but nothing has been scheduled.

According to ODOT, it is working with police and social services. It also said it is hamstrung by Oregon law and court decisions that require it to post warnings when it is about to run people off.

It is also required to hold a person's things for a month to give them a chance to get their stuff back. It just did that five days ago with a camp at I-205 and Foster.

KATU News invited state Rep. Jeff Reardon, D-Portland, to take a look at the camp. As the legislator for the area, he's been looking for a solution.

Lawmakers need to look at all the rules ODOT needs to follow but there is "not an immediate solution," he said, adding, "Lawmaking is sort of a slow process."

If you have a story for the On Your Side Investigators, email them at investigators@katu.com.

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Protecting the program: 'Lives have been destroyed due to the negligence of U of O administrators' Protecting the program: 'Lives have been destroyed due to the negligence of U of O administrators'